How Parking Became Central to Resurgence of ‘Motor City’
By Jamaine Dickens
In a U.S. city that historically sells more cars than anywhere else in the world, you’d think that city would be an industry leader when it comes to parking solutions. Not until now.
The world had a front seat to the near collapse of an entire automotive industry. The country rode shotgun on the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Well, for more than 20 years, parking was no different. But that story has rarely been told. Until now.
If you haven’t already guessed, that city is Detroit.
A resurgence is taking place in this legendary Midwest city that will soon become as much a spectacle as were the challenges of its past. Already, the economic rebound welcomes thousands of new residents and employees to Detroit, who now populate areas once desolate.
It has begun to look more like the “Motor City”: Home of the Big Three automotive companies that put America on wheels. A locale nearly a quarter of the state’s population now traverses as a daily routine. A place where motorists struggling to find adequate parking is a great problem to have.
But a problem, none the less.
Yet just as the automotive industry has turned the corner, and the fiscal crisis is in the rearview mirror, the city’s municipal parking department has cruised to a leading position within the parking industry by developing one of the most comprehensive on-street parking strategies in the country.
They call it ParkDetroit.
A few short years ago, the city struggled to provide the most basic
city services. Fiscal challenges confined it to archaic practices and antiquated equipment.
For municipal parking, that meant struggling to manage 3,200 on-street parking spaces where motorists routinely ignored parking restrictions, because 50% of its 20-year-old meters were inoperable. Because the city couldn’t afford to fix or replace them, the city and motorists both paid a heavy price.
For the city, it resulted in a significant loss in revenue and customer confidence; maintenance was virtually impossible; and tracking data was a non-starter. For motorists, it resulted in more than 230,000 tickets issued annually for 3,200 meters. And if a motorist accumulated six or more unpaid tickets, their vehicles were booted and towed by the department, salting the wounds of a citizenry that had grown tired of the status quo.
Such issues in Detroit were part of what led to the 2013 election of Mike Duggan, a former deputy county executive, turned county prosecutor, hospital CEO, and now the first white mayor elected in the 87% African American city in 40 years.
He was touted as a turnaround technician, and parking was among the top issues he was expected to fix.
Mayor Duggan turned to Norm White, a municipal government veteran in finance, transportation and operations, and demanded a solution. White then sought to move Detroit’s on-street parking system not only into the 21st century, but to the forefront of the parking industry, by creating the most comprehensive on-street parking program in the country.
“We knew that customer satisfaction was our priority, but a comprehensive system that addressed parking compliance, revenue loss and efficient enforcement was paramount,” said White, Director of the city’s Municipal Parking Department.
HOW DETROIT DID IT
The first thing the city did was scrap the single-meter pay-by-space setup and replace it with a pay-by-license-plate approach. Now, motorists park in zones spread throughout 19 areas of the city managed by 500 pay-by-plate kiosks.
Many U.S. cities had turned to a “kiosk” system as their parking solution. A few cities included a mobile app function for customer convenience. However, White’s solution was to add to that — a database, processing and maintenance solution — as well as a tech-savvy fleet component, integrating them all into the most comprehensive system in the country.
“In essence, we wanted to transform our antiquated system into a proactive, rather than a reactive program, while making it easier for customers to pay, and a more efficient way to enforce, maintain and manage,” White said. “For Detroit, that meant a complete overhaul.”
To achieve these lofty goals, White knew he would have to assemble the best team possible to help execute. But instead of issuing an RFP for the overall solution, he issued several RFPs for specific components, to ensure that he could select industry leaders in each specific concentration. Then the challenge was to integrate them. The city of Detroit selected:
Cale America to provide solar-charged Cale WebTerminal paystations with state-of-the-art technology for supporting license-plate-based payments — EMV-certified card payment options with secure and reliable wireless data services.
PCS Mobile to provide mobile parking license-plate-recognition (LPR) enforcement systems to provide time-limit, permit and scofflaw enforcement.
Duncan Solutions was already under contract to provide citation enforcement and processing systems, and delinquent debt collection services.
Passport to provide payments through a mobile app.
DMC Strategies, a national public affairs firm to provide community outreach, public/media relations, branding, web development and video productions, as well as collateral material to educate and inform the public.
HOW IT WORKS
The pay-by-plate kiosks allow Detroit to limit the time a customer can purchase in each zone and to extend their stay, if desired, from any kiosk in the city, despite where their vehicle is parked. Within the same parking session, a customer can move to another area within the same zone at no additional cost.
And with the new ParkDetroit mobile app, customers can do the same on their smartphone without leaving their jobs, appointments, meetings or shopping activities. All of this is monitored by license plate.
Detroit added a fleet of parking enforcement vehicles equipped with an LPR system, and each parking enforcement officer was assigned a handheld device that is fully integrated with the database.
That allows plate numbers to be scanned or input manually and processed in real-time. If a plate number reads unpaid, a second verification is made before a citation is issued. This prevents a scenario where a customer/vehicle is cited while in the process of paying.
This approach has helped build immediate confidence in the system by both customers and the city’s parking department.
However, change rarely comes easily — especially in Detroit. Apprehensive residents had grown accustomed to broken meters, because they translated into “free parking.” That’s why starting the transition to ParkDetroit, which began with aggressive community outreach, education, and public relations effort, was crucial.
Neighborhood and downtown businesses were overall optimistic about the opportunity to turn over parking spaces for customers patronizing their businesses. A history of broken meters essentially transformed on-street parking into a lot for motorists who would leave their cars in front of businesses all day.
“Customer complaints regarding parking are at an all-time low in Detroit, which was a key objective of the project,” White said. “When customers call, most simply want to verify how much time is left on their parking session, which we can do easily based on the plate number.”
White said that the overall goal of ParkDetroit, launched in late July 2015, was to increase customer satisfaction, parking compliance and operational efficiency, and as a result, the number of tickets issued would naturally decline.
Currently, the system’s usage has increased by more than 100%, while the number of parking tickets issued has decreased by 15%. At the same time, Detroit’s parking revenue is up more than 100% with the exact rates as the old system.
“Needless to say, we are happy with the results,” White said.
Jamaine Dickens is a Partner at DMC Strategies. Contact him at email@example.com. For more information, go to www.parkdetroit.us.